June 8, 2023

Phoenicia Elementary Faculty

The Onteora Faculty Board voted 6-1 to shut Phoenicia Elementary Faculty on Tuesday night, Could 2, in all chance seemingly sealing the identical destiny for the Woodstock Elementary Faculty. The board authorised a plan for a central campus in Boiceville housing all college students in grades k-12.

The vote was added to the agenda the afternoon of Could 2, simply hours earlier than the scheduled faculty board assembly. It got here underneath sharp criticism for lack of transparency

Phoenicia will shut on the finish of the 2023-24 faculty yr. The Woodstock and Bennett colleges will home grades k-5 starting with the 2024-25 faculty yr. Within the present configuration, Woodstock and Phoenicia comprise grades k-3, Bennett grades 4-6 and the center/highschool grades 7-12. The board not too long ago authorised step one of the reconfiguration by shifting the sixth grade to the center faculty starting with the 2024-25 faculty yr.

The decision handed by the board Could 2 commits the district to working towards a unified central campus by 2028. Whereas the measure doesn’t reference different closures immediately, such a transition eliminates the necessity for Woodstock Elementary Faculty. 

Confronted with steadily declining enrollment and a lack of 1000 college students, or greater than half its whole over the past decade, district officers have mentioned that sustaining all colleges was not sustainable. A instructor scarcity doesn’t make it any simpler.

Closing Phoenicia “would permit for improved educational experiences for college students, fewer transitions between faculty buildings, extra environment friendly transportation, simpler use of school and employees, and higher alignment of sources and practices,” the Could 2 decision acknowledged.

The vote was the end result of many conferences, starting with a 2019 examine carried out by Dr. Kevin Baughman that laid out six choices. One would have shut Bennett and made Phoenicia and Woodstock Okay-5. A second would have closed Bennett and made Phoenicia and Woodstock k-4, and the center faculty 5-8. A 3rd would have closed Phoenicia and Woodstock and made Bennett k-5. The fourth was to shut Phoenicia and Woodstock  to make Bennett k-4, and to make the center faculty 5-8, The fifth was to shut both Phoenicia or Woodstock. The sixth choice was to do nothing

The lone dissenter

The board’s lone dissenting opinion got here from trustee Sarah Hemingway Lynch, who conceded that the ad-hoc committee on restructuring had “made a very compelling case” for a central campus based mostly on financial affect, fewer transitions between buildings, and simpler use of school and employees, however complained there had been no agency price estimates of the modifications.

Additional, she known as the necessity to reconfigure Woodstock Elementary antithetical to the higher tutorial achievement aim and negating the optimistic affect for the present cohort of k-3.

“We break aside instructor cohorts in fourth and fifth grade that we all know are working,” Lynch mentioned “We delay the separation with two colleges as a substitute of bringing them collectively, strengthening the tradition of 1 Onteora. Seeing that constructing there evokes a lot emotion and a way of studying and a way of group. To some little children, we’re speaking about children which might be 5, six, seven years outdated, it’s a spot that fed them, cherished them and stored them secure.”

The case for the closings

Superintendent Victoria McLaren mentioned the district would save $370,000 to $750,000 yearly in amenities prices and $880,000 per yr in transportation bills underneath the brand new configuration. These tough estimates could change when the transportation contract is up for renewal subsequent yr.

Nonetheless to be decided are price estimates for reconfiguring the remaining buildings.

Board vice-president Cindy Bishop mentioned the choice was not purely monetary. She mentioned the plan the bard advocated would improve instructor skills to collaborate throughout grade ranges, now restricted by buildings separated by 15 miles. A nationwide instructor scarcity was creating difficulties in a district the place 30 % of the lecturers will attain retirement age by 2028.

The reconfiguration plan, elaborated Bishop, would handle “a shared standing difficulty in our elementary colleges the place lecturers and associated service suppliers who’re assigned to k-6 college students could journey throughout the day between buildings, shedding hours of educational time every week.” Presently eleven educating employees journey between buildings.

Out of 127 college students attending Phoenicia, solely 55 reside within the City of Shandaken, Bishop mentioned, whereas 72 reside in Bearsville, Boiceville, Glenford, Hurley, Olivebridge, Shokan, Stone Ridge, West Hurley, West Shokan and Willow. Many college students from the components of Woodstock go to Phoenicia to be able to extra evenly distribute the inhabitants.

“These 72 college students are bused previous Bennett every day to keep up acceptable enrollment at Phoenicia,” she mentioned. “Our buses at the moment journey in extra of 5000 miles every day, transporting our college students to their colleges. Our elementary buildings are considerably underutilized, nevertheless. [They] require full upkeep and incur operational bills as if they have been totally utilized, which negatively impacts the environment, wastes sources, and burdens our taxpayers.”

By the numbers

Trustee David Wallis cited census knowledge. In 2011, there have been 490 college students within the district aged 5 or underneath. In 2021, there have been 427. “That’s a discount of about twelve %. That is U.S. Census knowledge. That is good, stable knowledge,” he mentioned.

He was heckled by the group, lots of whom chanted, “No, that’s not correct,” as he tried to conclude.

“I believe that there’s been quite a lot of misconceptions in regards to the important variety of thriller youngsters who’re immediately going to return to our colleges and flood them. That’s not true. And it must be mentioned that it’s not true,” he mentioned. Wallis equated the scenario to an outdated couple whose youngsters have moved out of the home and need to take care of downsizing.

“And also you’re working for re-election,” shouted somebody within the crowd.

“I actually don’t care. See, I care extra in regards to the children than I do my very own election,” Wallis responded. “It’s uncomfortable, and it’s arduous, and we’ve got to typically make a transfer, and that’s the place we’re at. That’s the fact of the scenario, of us. And that’s arduous to listen to, and it’s a problem.”

Don’t ram this by means of

Board president Emily Sherry requested the board whether or not it wished to delay the vote, given calls from the group to not rush. Her movement failed.

After the assembly, Sherry defined that the board had been ready to vote on the plan on the earlier assembly, however the decision didn’t make it onto the agenda as a result of some trustees had unresolved questions. It was positioned on the Could 2 agenda instantly after being authorised by the district’s attorneys, she defined.

Many within the viewers questioned why it couldn’t wait till the subsequent assembly.

Greater than 30 folks spoke, all however three towards the plan.

Former faculty board president and 14-year board member Laurie Osmond mentioned that the board president and vp meet with the superintendent the week earlier than the month-to-month assembly to set the agenda.

“The agenda is meant to return out on Friday. You don’t slip issues in at midday the day of the assembly,” she mentioned. “I’ve mentioned earlier than that this was being timed to occur earlier than the election so there was no probability of a brand new trustee getting a vote. You denied that.” Osmond mentioned.

“I’ve mentioned earlier than that there was an agenda and that quite a few former faculty board members have heard the superintendent say over time that she wished a central campus, and I used to be instructed there was no agenda,” Osmond mentioned. “The newspapers have been instructed there was no agenda. That was a lie.”

Osmond instructed the board they’d been elected to signify their constituents, to not do the bidding of the superintendent. “You’re not being trustworthy. You’re not being clear, and nobody goes to overlook this.”

A matter of belief

Dad or mum Jeff Bailey mentioned the board had misplaced the general public’s belief, particularly with the last-minute discover. “Because the data of this assembly and this vote got here at 3:30 throughout pickup time in school, because it rippled by means of the varsity — the quantity of tension, and scariness and unknowingness — all of us rallied collectively,” Bailey mentioned. “Look how many individuals got here on this quantity of discover simply to point out up and simply say, wait, wait, how can we belief this knowledge.“It’s the most unscrupulous and shameful factor to placed on the agenda this morning to reduce the impact of public discourse. It’s not the fitting approach, and also you don’t need to begin this selection that approach.”

Woodstock Elementary Faculty (Picture by Dion Ogust)

Dad or mum Caroline Jerome, a Woodstock Library trustee, mentioned she knew what it was wish to lose and rebuild the belief of the general public, having handled the lengthy, contentious means of shifting into a brand new facility. “I do know there have been whispers about this for so long as I’ve been right here,” she mentioned. “Nonetheless, this appears very rushed to me. And I believe that it’s going to actually have an effect on this very, very valuable factor that there’s such a scarcity of in our society usually, which is belief.”

She requested for a reconsideration of the vote that night, “and provides us an opportunity to turn out to be extra concerned in understanding what , as a result of what we all know however we don’t know what .”

The brief discover of the vote left many like Jane Brooks disturbed. “The factor is that I’ve had so little time to course of this that I don’t even know the precise timing since you threw this vote on the agenda three hours in the past,” she mentioned. “We’re a small enterprise entrepreneurs on this city, additionally eager about making a significant funding on this city, and I’m reconsidering that proper now.”

Brooks was not thrilled with the concept of her daughter using the bus for 3 additional hours per week if Woodstock Elementary finally closes. “I moved upstate to offer her a secure, wholesome setting, a vibrant group,” she defined “And I hear I need to be a part of that. However I can’t be if these choices are made behind closed doorways with out the suggestions in a well timed method of the group wherein is being impacted.” 

Longtime Phoenicia instructor Sharon McInerney requested the trustees to consider instructional equality earlier than casting their vote.

“Woodstock has at all times been seen form of as an upper-class, well-educated, excessive socioeconomic space and group, whereas Phoenicia is at all times often called a extra rural, backwoods, impoverished, poor group,” she mentioned. “And that’s why I believe many dad and mom from Phoenicia don’t even learn about this, and what’s happening as a result of they’re too busy working second- and third-shift jobs to have the ability to make ends meet. So to shut a faculty like Phoenicia is basically socking it to the poor folks.”

McInerney mentioned a latest superintendent convention had careworn the significance of being keenly conscious of individuals’s socioeconomic backgrounds, language and academic wants. Closing Phoenicia meant that the district was being culturally biased.

Who is that this serving to?

Richard Wolff was in favor of the central campus plan. “Colleges are closed as a result of the inhabitants is declining. You simply need to face that,” he mentioned. Wolff, a former trustee, mentioned the district hasn’t downsized a single sq. foot since he was on the board. 

“Who’s it really serving to?” requested Wolff. “It’s not serving to anyone. It’s not serving to me as a taxpayer. It’s not serving to the youngsters.”

Former board president Kevin Salem mentioned the decision is evident to the scholars and taxpayers of the district, and that he understands the stress.

“We tried very arduous to not attain this second. You don’t have any concept the quantity of machinations and planning and simply wanting on the different approach and making an attempt every thing we may. Sadly it’s as much as the seven of you to need to decide,” Salem mentioned. 

Dad or mum and former trustee Daphne DeJesus thanked the Phoenicia employees, lots of whom have been within the viewers, for his or her service.

“There’s not a baby within the Phoenicia group that they haven’t impacted, that they haven’t touched, they haven’t gone to their home and dropped off snacks, dropped off faculty baggage, dropped off provides,” she mentioned. “I simply implore you to contemplate not taking a vote tonight.”

Phoenicia PTA president Christina Signore mentioned she has tried to be supportive however more and more felt the trustees’ minds had been made up all alongside.

“I’m simply devastated. I’m heartbroken,” she mentioned. “I simply really feel I really feel prefer it’s all for nothing, all this difficult work and making an attempt to work collectively and making an attempt to maintain it cool.”

After the assembly, board president Sherry mentioned the choice was not taken frivolously. “Imagine me, it’s heartbreaking,” she mentioned.

The put up Onteora board votes to shut Phoenicia Faculty, plans additionally to shutter Woodstock Faculty first appeared on Hudson Valley One.